By the Reverend Kevin McGrane, Sr.
If today’s Gospel passage had a title, it could be, “I’m not the Messiah you were expecting.”
Let me explain that.
The passage we read a bit ago starts with the words “From that time on…”, telling us that, with this incident, the ministry of Jesus and his apostles changes. It changes because this is the first time in Matthew that Jesus predicts his death and resurrection.
Peter and his fellow apostles are shocked. At this time, they don’t know a thing about this. Peter says, “God forbid!”, and Jesus immediately turns on him and chastises Peter, calling him “Satan” for saying such a thing. Jesus’s death and resurrection is the very reason why he is here. Peter is challenging the very reason-of-being for Jesus’ incarnation.
I have to feel a bit sorry for Peter here. He’s having a rough week in this chapter of Matthew. Last week in verses 16-18, Jesus was praising him for calling Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God…Jesus says, ”From now on you will be called Peter, and upon this rock I will build the faith!” Now, just a few days later, Peter is being called Satan. That’s a tough week with the boss!
Peter and the apostles are shocked because the predicted death and resurrection of Jesus is not what they are expecting from the Messiah. The Messiah they expected was the kind of Messiah that most Jews expected back then - a great prophet/king anointed by God to create a human/political dynasty, free of occupying empires like Rome or Babylon. Think “Another King David”, not someone who dies at the hands of the Powers That Be.
That is why I suggest that the title of today’s passage could be “I’m not the Messiah you were expecting”. We see from verse 16 that they knew who Jesus was - the Messiah, the Son of God - but they did not understand yet what that meant.
They thought it meant a new King David, not execution at the hands of the occupying army.
They thought it meant a restored and liberated Israel, not a "Kingdom not of this world."
They thought Jesus would reign as a King, not resurrect as Divine Savior.
This was all new to them. They were so shocked by his prediction of his passion and death that he had to tell them about it three times in Matthew, not just here in Chapter 16 but also 17 and then again in 20. He was going to Jerusalem to die, not conquer.
He had to explain to them over and over, “I’m not the Messiah you were expecting”.
It is important for us to realize that, in today’s reading, he goes on and links this revelation about his life as Messiah to their lives as his apostles and disciples. He teaches elsewhere in the New Testament that the student is not above the master (remember that?), and their life as Jesus Followers will not be the kind of life they may have been expecting.
He says that we all will have our own crosses to pick up and carry.
We all will have to say “no” to ourselves to follow Jesus; “no” to our dreams of security and pleasure and power.
We have to lose our lives and follow the Way of Jesus in order to save our lives.
If we gain this wonderful world we expected before we met Jesus, we lose our lives.
Just like Jesus is explaining to the apostles what being the Messiah actually means, he is explaining the pattern of discipleship necessary to follow Jesus. He is saying, “This isn’t going to be the life you’re expecting. It’s going to be one of sacrifice. Each one of us will have our own cross to carry.”
Yet, there is grace in today’s Gospel passage. Jesus says, by virtue of this bad news of his death and resurrection, he will return with the majesty and glory of God, bringing justice and salvation to the world. Rather than create this Messianic Age that so many in Israel longed for, he will create something even better - he will create the Kingdom of God.
Jesus cannot do that until he dies and rises again. He says this fate is necessary for the salvation of the world.
As we move forward together in our life of faith, we should do our best to learn what it means to lead the kind of life that Jesus expects us to lead, not what we expect to lead.
One good way to do that is to own and read a study bible. A study bible is a special version of the bible that has footnotes and inserts and maps and dictionaries to help us understand better what we are reading.
There are many kinds out there, some good and others not so good. One I use is this one: it is called The Common English Bible, also known as the CEB. It’s commentaries are edited by scholars from mainline, Catholic, Evangelical, and Orthodox churches, so the reader gets a good ecumenical perspective on the Sacred Scripture. Also, it’s translated to be accessible to most people, not just scholars and academics only. It’s very readable.
It’s a real doorstop of a book, no doubt – it weighs over four pounds. Yet it is not expensive. You can buy it on Amazon, and a “like new” or “very good condition” copies are half-price, running about $30 delivered.
Imagine coming to Brent’s lectionary program on Sunday mornings fortified with that!
But let me return to the message of today’s reading: Jesus was not the kind of Messiah people were expecting, and the life of a Jesus Follower is not the kind of life people are expecting. We can look about us today and see many people leading a life they say is Christian that doesn’t look a thing like the Good News of simplicity, mercy, and peace of Jesus. If we want to know the kind of Messiah Jesus really is, and the kind of life Jesus Followers are really supposed to lead, we need to be intentional in our study of Sacred Scripture. We will be better Jesus Followers if we do, and the faith community of St. John’s is prepared to help you do that. Amen.
The Reverend Kevin McGrane serves as a deacon in the Diocese of Missouri, and serves at St. John's.
Various members of the St. John's congregation contribute to this blog. For editorial suggestions, contact Jeff McIntire-Strasburg at email@example.com